San Diego is proud to have the largest concentration of military in the world including Naval Base San Diego, Naval Base Coronado, Marine Corps Recruiting Depot San Diego, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Plus, San Diego is home to more than 250,000 veterans.
Whether active-duty military stationed in San Diego, a veteran, or you’re just visiting, there are plenty of military and veteran discounts you can take advantage of while you’re here.
Free Admission for Active-Duty Military, National Guard, Reserves and their Families
The 2023 Blue Star Museums program begins on Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 20 and ends on Labor Day, Monday, September 4, 2023. Blue Star Museums is a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts and Blue Star Families, in collaboration with the Department of Defense and museums across America, offering free admission to the nation’s active-duty military personnel and their families, including National Guard and Reserve. Find participating San Diego County Blue Star Museums here.
Military Themed Museums
Where: 910 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101
The USS Midway Museum aboard the decommissioned USS Midway aircraft carrier is the most-visited of the 100-plus historic naval ship museums in the continental United States. Berthed at Navy Pier along San Diego Bay, the Midway is a floating tribute to the hundreds of thousands who served their country aboard the ship for nearly 50 years. Highlights include self-guided audio tours; more than 40 exhibits and displays, including many restored aircraft; access to the mess deck, berthing spaces, hangar deck, flight deck, island superstructure and more; Mach Combat F-8 and F-4 phantom flight simulators and flight stations; a Flight Avionics motion simulator; and interactive, story-telling docents, many of whom are Midway veterans. Active duty and reservist personnel receive free admission; retired military receive discounted $18 admission. Find tickets here.
Where: 2001 Pan American Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101
The San Diego Air & Space Museum in Balboa Park is home to a massive collection of classic military aircraft ranging from the dawn of flight through WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the jet age and beyond. The Museum also features an International Aerospace Hall of Fame, honoring the inventors, engineers, pilots and industrialists who created and built airplanes. The San Diego Air & Space Museum offers a military discount on general admission. Active-duty service members are free. Retired service members get $4 off admission. Find tickets here.
Where: 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr, San Diego, CA 92106
Along the paths of Cabrillo National Monument sit the remains of coastal defenses built to protect the approaches to San Diego Bay. While visiting the park, you will find base-end stations, fire control stations, searchlight bunkers, and other remains of troubled times; lonely sentinels that now serve to guard our memories of the past. Housed in an old radio station, the exhibit, “They Stood the Watch,” shares the story behind these remains, and ranger talks are often given on weekends. For those who wish to learn more, the Cabrillo National Monument Foundation bookstore, located in the Visitor Center, offers several titles about Fort Rosecrans and the military history of Point Loma. Current US military members and their dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and Space Force, as well as Reserve and National Guard members can get free admission to Cabrillo with the 2023 Interagency Pass – Military Annual Pass. Find the details here.
Where: 2701 Lytton St, San Diego, CA 92106
Hundreds of thousands of civilian and military people passed through the gates of San Diego Naval Training Center in the course of its history. This decommissioned base has now been transformed into Liberty Station, which is combination of residential, arts district and retail. With many of the businesses housed in the historic structures that date back to the 1920s, just walking around Liberty Station can bring back proud memories for the more than a million military personnel who were trained there. The base’s former command center and parade ground are included in what is now called the ARTS DISTRICT Liberty Station, a cultural district with museums, galleries, artist studios, dance studios, restaurants and retail stores. The command center contains historic displays of the Naval Training Center and Point Loma. Admission is free.
Where: 22640 Historic Decatur Rd Bldg. 200, Suite 108, San Diego, CA 92106
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Liberty Station, two free exhibitions — one of them a permanent museum — have opened inside the former Navy base’s Dick Laub NTC Command Center. Both were created by military veterans. The Nautical History Gallery & Museum is a 800 sq. ft. gallery displaying a panoramic history of the U.S. Navy, its ships and how they have evolved over time from the Revolutionary War period, through the Civil War, into the Spanish-American War, then World War I and World War II, including the beginning of naval aviation. ‘Immortalizing Heroes’ is a War Memorial designed by inspired by 94 Veterans returning from a trip to Washington DC to visit the War Memorials in their respective honor. The exhibit features large-scale artworks organized by theme: World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam Conflict, The Global War on Terrorism, Unsung Heroes and Funeral Honors. Admission is free.
Where: 1600 Henderson Ave Building 26, San Diego, CA 92140
The Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) Command Museum opened its doors in 1987 and has served the Recruit Depot/Western Recruiting Region through its mission to train recruits and provide for the continuing education of Marines. It supports the recruiting effort and serves as a bridge to the civilian community. The Museum’s focus is the history of the Marine Corps in the 20th and 21st centuries, as well as the history of the Marines in Southern California. In addition to its many galleries, the Museum also maintains a Reference Center that includes an Archives and Research Library, a theater, a Visitor Reception Center, and a gift shop.
The museum offers free admission and is currently open to veterans, active duty military personnel, and families of graduating Marines on Family Day and Graduation. All visitors must show valid government issued identification. The public may visit the MCRD Museum subject to base access procedures found here. You can also explore the museum online through a virtual tour here.
Where: 161492 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101
The Maritime Museum of San Diego, established in 1948, preserves one of the largest collections of historic sea vessels in the United States. Explore the historic ships at this open-air museum along the Embarcadero. Be a part of history and ride the only active passenger carrying Navy Swift Boat in the country. Feel the power of the twin 12 cylinder 2-stroke Detroit Diesels as you take a behind the scenes 75-minute narrated tour of San Diego’s military history. Find tickets and details here.
The San Diego Navy exhibit at the Maritime Museum depicts the remarkable history of the United States Navy in San Diego. San Diego’s Navy uses hundreds of rare photos, artifacts and models to illustrate San Diego’s remarkable contribution to the nation’s defense and the navy’s extraordinary influence on this region. Military w/ID receive a $5 discount on general admission at the museum.
New military exhibit rolls into Museum
Where: 2080 Pan American Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101
With Military Appreciation Month as the backdrop, the San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park debuted a new exhibit, “Salute to San Diego’s Troops.” It features two legendary combat workhorses, a 1942 Willys MB Jeep and a 1985 Humvee. Read more about the exhibit in this recent San Diego Union Tribune story by John Wilkens. The museum is also a Blue Star Museum and offers FREE admission to active-duty military from May 20 through Labor Day, Monday, September 4, 2023. Find tickets and more information here.
Veteran Discounts at San Diego Museums
If you qualify, taking advantage of a San Diego military or veteran discount is typically an easy experience. All you usually need is your approved credentials—such as an active-duty military ID card or VA-issued identification card. Relatives—including spouses and children—can often use their military-issued Dependent ID card for applicable offers.
Many San Diego County Museums offer discount admission for for active duty military and veterans all year-long. You can find discounts at the Birch Aquarium, the Comic-Con Museum, the San Diego Automotive Museum. Search our list of more than 75 museums, historic sites, gardens, zoos, aquariums, parks and more.
More than 20 san Diego Museums are FREE year-round for the whole family!
These museums offer free admission or have a donation-based admission policy that doesn’t charge a fixed admission fee but looks to your generosity to help make them accessible to all in our community. Your whole family can explore the FUN at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park, the Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum in Carlsbad, the Nautical History Gallery & Museum in Liberty Station and more for free. Find the FREE museum list and other discounts here.
Where: 2115 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92104
The Veterans Museum and Memorial Center in Balboa Park honors all men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. On display are a variety of historical artifacts, documents, memorabilia and artwork from the Civil War era through Desert Storm in Iraq. Active-duty military get free admission to the museum, and veterans get a $1 discount. Plus the museum is free to all San Diego County residents on the second Tuesday of each month as part of Balboa park’s Resident Free Tuesdays. Tickets and more info here.
Where: 6905 La Jolla Scenic Dr S, La Jolla, CA 92037
Located high atop Soledad Mountain in La Jolla, the Mt Soledad Veterans Memorial honors war veterans from all branches of the military. Features include a 43-foot cross originally dedicated to veterans of the Korean War and black granite plaques dedicated to individual veterans. Visitors can also enjoy awe-inspiring panoramic views of San Diego County from the Pacific Ocean to the mountains.
The Port of San Diego showcases an inspiring collection of military heritage artworks dubbed the “Greatest Generation Collection” along its Embarcadero. For example, the “USS San Diego (CL-53) Memorial” is a striking monument commemorating the distinguished World War II service of San Diego’s namesake cruiser. The “Homecoming” sculpture depicts the happy return of a sailor from the sea, reunited with wife and child. The black obelisk and bronze sculptures of the “Aircraft Carrier Memorial” honor all who’ve served on the Navy’s aircraft carriers. The Admiral Sprague bust presides from its pedestal over the “Battle of Leyte Gulf Memorial,” a fitting remembrance of one of the most desperate and heroic naval actions in U.S. history. Lastly, the “Military Tribute to Bob Hope” honors the famed entertainer’s efforts. Read more here. All artwork is located in a beautiful waterfront park on Harbor Drive in downtown San Diego.
This exhibit provides a very rare opportunity to see Holocaust memorabilia that’s been collected in San Diego County. As viewers walk through the exhibit, they are met with a replica of the entrance to Auschwitz, as well as a sign bearing the infamous message “arbeit macht frei” — “work sets you free.” Above also hangs a cardboard replica of a boxcar in which the Nazis would transport people to camps.
At the very back is a separate room, called TRUTH, that shares the atrocities committed during the Holocaust. A video of Scheller’s mother telling her story plays as viewers look at blown-up photos of the conditions in the camps, as well as a gas chamber and barrels that read “giftgas,” or poison.
The exhibit is available during Rancho San Diego Library hours and tours are available from Sandy Scheller on Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Click here for more information and to request tours.
Additional Fun Discounts
SeaWorld® San Diego Free Veteran Tickets
San Diego Padres
*Includes active duty members of the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard; members of the Reserve components (Ready Reserve, National Guard, and Reservists in training); and cadets of service academies and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Civilians are not included.
California State Park Discounts
Every May, California State Parks offers free admission to veterans, active and reserve military members for Memorial Day. The California Department of Parks’ list of nature areas honoring the complimentary admission deal includes some in the San Diego area: South Carlsbad State Beach, Torrey Pines State Beach, Torrey Pines State Reserve, Silver Strand State Beach, Palomar Mountain State Park, Cardiff State Beach and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
Honorably discharged war veterans who are residents of California with an overall / combined rating at 50% or greater service-connected disability, or were held as prisoners of war by forces hostile to the United States, or recipients of the Medal of Honor are eligible to receive the California State Parks Distinguished Veteran Pass. The card entitles the holder to the use of all basic facilities (including day use, camping and boating) in California State Parks at no charge. Find out more here.